Fred Muniz Jr. ’16 began 9/11 like every other day: he opened the bedroom blinds in his Co-op City, Bronx apartment. Finding his view of Lower Manhattan shrouded in dark smoke, he instinctively put on his uniform and drove downtown, later abandoning his car in stopped traffic to run toward the flames.
Muniz, a U.S. Marine Corps reservist at the time, was among the thousands of first responders who risked their lives on 9/11. The events of that grim and destructive day triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism. Muniz was deployed in January 2004 and served one tour in Iraq on the front lines and sustained multiple injuries, including a gunshot wound through his left arm and chest.
He returned home to find he could no longer tolerate activities he used to enjoy, including the glib war themed videogames his brothers continued to play. Adjusting to civilian life was a struggle.
“It was very difficult for me, and it was difficult for my family, and then I went to church one day because I just couldn’t deal with life.”
Luckily, Muniz ran into a mentor at church who reintroduced him to the Bible. He discovered hope and healing in the Scriptures.
Today, a graduate student in Manhattan’s Mental Health Counseling program, Muniz is working toward opening up his own clinic in association with the existing Unified Service & Veterans Action Council (USVA) located in White Plains, N.Y. Together, with a few of the members of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Chapter No. 16 in Yonkers, N.Y., he hopes to make a difference in the lives of veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress by providing individual and family counseling.
“I hope to help not only the person in need, but open it up to a family awareness counseling center, where we can bring the entire family together and we can talk together as a family and work with each one individually,” he says.
Muniz is active in his community, serving as Commander of the DAV, Junior Vice Commander of the Marine Corps League in Westchester, N.Y., and National Commander of the current USVA. He discovered his gift for healthcare and counseling through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, and then earned his psychology degree from Lehman College while working as a dialysis technician in the Bronx.
Muniz was initially interested in Manhattan because of its proximity to his home but also found an approachable, close-knit community.
“As soon as I stepped in the door everybody was really friendly, and they made it a very seamless entry,” Muniz says. “The director of the Mental Health Counseling department, Professor Corrine Fitzpatrick, called me up and said, ‘Hi, you want to be in school? Come in next week.’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ She really got me.”
Noting the need for more lifetime counseling programs for veterans, Muniz references the words of President Abraham Lincoln, the father of the U.S. Veteran’s Association motto:
“It’s the young ones who go through this,” Muniz says, paraphrasing. “They’re our veterans, the one who’s fought in battle, it’s [up] to his spouse, it’s to his widow, it’s to his orphan to reconcile with the loss. A lot of times they don’t get the help and support that they need.”
Muniz adds, “[Opening the clinic] is something that gives me goose bumps again and starts letting me dream the dream of what it is I want to do.”